I've spent the day building up my reading muscles - by completing William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist in one day (no easy feat when the reader is me! This included an hour nap after this morning's swim too, I'll have you know) - in order to race through the final Harry Potter at the end of the week. Laura and I have our weekend planned: home from work, sleep, up before midnight to get our copies, home to read them, all night, then a four hour sleep midday Saturday, read some more, out to a wedding in the evening, and then mop up whatever remains on Sunday.
Anyhoo, The Exorcist... I first bought the book back in 1999 - when I was traveling the country assisting some crazed sex-fiend who misguided me into thinking he was running an actor's agency - don't ask. I never got round to reading it. Like the film the opening is slow and dusty, and I just didn't get the feel I was expecting.
My new idea for a book is edging towards a subplot of possession, so having completed whatever it was I was reading before... ah yes, Harry Potter again... I thought I'd get the lowdown on what possession is really like (right!).
Blatty's book is quite the read actually, and goes along with everything I've read recently on the current (past 40 years) trends of readers - geared towards psychology. We share our time with a third-person narrator who mostly enters the minds of two characters: the mother, Chris MacNeil, and Father Damien Karras. There are times when we move to other minor characters to help push the plot or move us between the main characters, but for the most part with are with Chris or Damien... and the reason?
Simply put, the reader needs to find empathy with the leads - in the mother we have worry over what is happening to her daughter and guilt over what influence she has had; in the priest exists massive guilt about how he's left his mother, and his lack of faith. No other characters are more perfect in providing much needed emotional conflict. This became most noticeable towards the end, when Father Merrin arrives. Merrin, though disturbed as much as the others, suffering from coronary problems and being very old, wouldn't make for a good character in whom to inhabit - instead we stick with Father Karras, through whose eyes we witness Merrin's presence.
We should ask ourselves how much of an impact it would have made for Blatty to move us into Merrin's thoughts. Potentially disastrous: 1) We'd need lots more backstory since Merrin and Pazuzu have faced off before, and 2) His emotions stay largely in check, he has no apparent conflicts of faith. He is in essence Karras's impact character, who leads Karras to change. This means that Merrin lacks conflict and we'd have little emotional linkage with him, and 3) Though Merrin appeared at the beginning, we have had nothing from him for over 250 pages. To enter his mind at the late stages of the book is akin to breaking the contract between narrator and reader. This is Karras's story, not Merrin's.
In a similar vein, we do not enter into Pazuzu's thoughts. We are kept at arms length - just far enough aware to get spat on - so that we cannot identify with the beast, so that don't come to understand it. Much of The Exorcist's tension comes from this alien entity. We have no understanding of its limits. And to have known it by any fashion would limit our suspense and the interactions between it and the family and priests.
Through this Blatty expertly crafts a subplot detective story that is wrapped up moments before the final conflict (subplots should usually be wrapped up first so as to bring gravitas to the big climax) and there is suitable menace in his chosen vocab and syntax, always matching words to the mood.